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How Musicians Enact Change With Song—From a Civil Rights Activist to NHS Musician Sarah Hume
Ella Zubec /  Tue, 26 Apr 2022

Last week, I had the opportunity to talk to a classmate and friend of mine: Sarah Hume. Sarah is a grade nine musician, and she was one of the performers at our Black History Month Assembly. We spoke about her musical journey, and what led her to be the person she is today.

Earlier this year, she covered “Don’t Make Me Wait”, by Hunnah, an Ethiopian singer from Toronto, by singing and playing the piano. Her performance was showcased in our Black History Month assembly. You can watch the video on Nepean’s Diverse Student Union’s Instagram, here. Hunnah is a talented musician, with a powerful voice; you can watch the original song here, and check out her other music here.

Sarah has a sister who is an alumni of NHS — Catharine Hume joined the DSU during her time at Nepean, and she encouraged her younger sister to do so too. Catharine spoke of the caring environment the DSU cultivated, as well as the educational benefits of the club. She said it was a great way to learn about the systemic injustices in our society, and in our school. It is also a great place to learn how to act when you witness these injustices, and how to better our society and ourselves. Sarah now attends their meetings regularly.

This year wasn’t Sarah’s first time participating in activities run by the DSU, despite only being in grade nine. When she was in grade eight, she sang a song with her sister: “What’s Your Story” by Angelique Francis. Angelique is an Ottawa-based Black musician who is a talented bass player and singer. The song Sarah and Catharine sang was about telling people’s stories, and how by telling all the good and bad parts of someone’s story, people will understand them more as a whole. Further, by asking people about their story, you can learn more about the injustices they face, but also the beautiful things that have happened in their lives.

Sarah is involved elsewhere in our school community too, with both sports and music. Along with chamber choir, she plays the trombone in Nepean’s concert band and jazz band. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, the Nepean Chamber Choir didn’t start up until shortly before Christmas break. Excited by this opportunity, Sarah joined immediately, too.

On Thursday, April 21st, The Nepean Choir did a joint performance with The Graz Boys’ Choir, and The Ottawa Gay Men’s Chorus. Each choir did some pieces on their own, and songs together. One of the songs they did together was a religious song: “Laudate Dominum”. Sarah earned the solo for this song.

Sarah has been involved with music since she was very young. She started out by singing along to opera songs; it was these moments that were the beginning spark for her passion for singing. Her grandma took her to operas in Ottawa, and eventually, she wanted to try it herself. Sarah started taking lessons about two and a half years ago, and started with her current teacher in September.

Using Music For Change

When Sarah uses her musical abilities to amplify the voices of people of colour and spread their messages, she is becoming the activist we wish to see in everyone. She is following in the footsteps of many musician activists from the past, many of whom were key figures in the civil rights movement. A prominent example of someone who fits these characteristics is Nina Simone.

“When she was performing, she was brilliant; she was loved. She was also a revolutionary. She found a purpose for the stage: a place from which she could use her voice to speak out for her people.” — Lisa Simone (Nina Simone’s daughter)

Nina Simone is an American classical, jazz, blues, and soul musician. This pianist always voiced her support for the civil rights movement. Because she grew up with the Jim Crow laws and felt the impacts of racial discrimination in her everyday life, she felt compelled to take a stand when she finally could.

Despite sacrificing her career for her political music, she persisted in singing about what she cared for. Some of her notable songs are, “Backlash Blues”, her cover of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free”, “Why? (The Kind Of Love Is Dead)”, which was about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and “To Be Young Gifted and Black”, which was one of the most important songs of the civil rights movements.

When I asked Sarah about why she used music as a part of her activism, she replied, “I chose to use music because I find that it can reach a large group of people, and that everyone can interpret it in a different way.”

Music is a universal language, which bridges the knowledge gap about social injustices between activists, victims and listeners. Song inspires hope within the communities who face discrimination, and impels everyone to make a change. By simply singing a song written by a POC, you are sharing their story and sharing their struggles. Because we live in a society where the white narrative is the one constantly empathized with, and the one amplified, I am grateful for musicians like Sarah Hume, who continue to share the messages of people of colour.